The Curious Case of Marc-Andre Fleury

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You knew it was coming, what you probably don’t know is the conclusion that is still percolating in my brain as I begin this piece. By this point both Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero have weighed in on Fleury’s future and it certainly seems like he will play out at least the remainder of his current contract in Pittsburgh. And that is probably for the best.

You could blame me for being easily susceptible to suggestion but after reading the following two articles my hardline stance on Fleury is changing. We start with the master Mike Colligan, as usual he stepped up with a far better piece than anyone else could write about what happened to the Penguins and what the franchise should look to do now moving forward. One line really sticks out:

At age 37, Vokoun won’t be able to handle the demands of a full 82-game season and should be the backup — even if the over-the-top comments from Bylsma were a little out of line.

I don’t know, I’ve ignored that excuse in the past, and maybe it is just because of my unhealthy appreciation for Colligan, but his comments triggered for me something that former contributor Andrew pointed out to me over the weekend: Vokoun’s starts have been decreasing for 4 straight years.

vokoun-seasons

Good goalies tend to be able to play into their very late 30s or early 40s at a high rate, and Vokoun, once and for all and long overdo, has proven himself a good goaltender, but even with that said, in the best of circumstances he would need to platoon his games, you can’t call on him to make 70 appearances next year, and if the Penguins don’t have a proven NHLer to back him up, it is impossible to predict what would happen.

The second piece that has influenced my thinking on Fleury comes from Seth Rorabaugh, he summed up the role of Vokoun and Fleury playing together as such:

The Penguins platooned Vokoun and Fleury this past season over a shortened 48-game schedule. That resulted in them merely being the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. (Emphasis is his)

Maybe, just maybe, the Penguins actually do need Marc-Andre Fleury. They need a proven commodity to shoulder the weight of the regular season. I do not view the Penguins goaltending situation as particularly dire: I’m interested in seeing what Jeff Zatkoff really has at the NHL level and Eric Hartzell could prove to be a quality long-range project, if he comes back to the organization. But those guys aren’t ready to make crucial starts against division rivals for a team that has expectations of winning their division, winning the conference, and more.

Since Fleury’s seeming demotion before Game 5 of the Conference Quarterfinals the excuse I have given for trading him is that so many teams need a goaltender that can merely get them into the playoffs that they would take Fleury without worrying about whether he can play IN the playoffs or not. And maybe that’s what the Penguins need to do as well. We as fans need to accept that Fleury has never let us down in the regular season. We need a guy that can make 50-60 starts a year, finish 95% of the games he starts and be a team player. I have no doubt that MAF would be able to fulfill that better than most players.

Now with that said, it would still be completely unacceptable for the Penguins to ignore what Tomas Vokoun has done for them over the past year. It’s one thing to say that Vokoun merely outplayed Fleury in net during the playoffs. It’s another to say that he was the Penguins’ best player, which in most games he really was. You have to give him the opportunity to succeed and compete for his playing time. But as it stands, there’s not too much I can say that will be sufficiently different from this piece I wrote just before the playoffs started.

At this time Vokoun is absolutely the more well-known commodity. He’s going to play well, regardless of the circumstance. What we also know about him though is that he has a history of injuries, he’s 37, and he understands what his role is with the Penguins. Given those considerations maybe MAF is a little more valuable to the Penguins than we give him credit for.


Coming in Hot: Pens/Sens, Goaltending

The Penguins probably raised the bar for how poorly a team can play in an elimination game and still come away with a win. That’s the bad news. Which means that there is a lot of good news. Nobody ever said that you have to win pretty in the playoffs, all that matters is that the Pens have 4 wins against the Islanders, they will get the opportunity to continue the quest for a fourth Stanley Cup. And in the next round the Pens get the Ottawa Senators. Here is a brief recounting of the facts of the Pens versus the Senators.

All-time series record: It’s hard to remember but the Senators have only been around (as this franchise) for 20 years. In that time the teams have met 85 times, with the Penguins leading overall 48 (with 9 OT/Shootout wins since 2005)-31-6 (ties). The teams have met for three series in the playoffs and the Pens have taken 2 out of those 3. They hold a 9-7 record in those games. Fun fact: the last time the Penguins won a game in OT to clinch a series before Saturday came against the Senators in 2010.

You can count on Anderson to tote the rock

You can count on Anderson to tote the rock

Goaltending: Craig Anderson is a rock. Had he not missed a large percentage of the season he would have run away with the Vezina trophy and that’s a fact. He posted a save percentage over .940, which is insane over a season, and his 1.69 GAA was more than a quarter of a point better than any other starter in the league. In his lifetime Anderson has posted average (by his standards) numbers against the Penguins: 4-4-2 with a .919 S% and 2.48 GAA. At it’s surface this will be the biggest strength for the Senators over the Penguins. There’s no question who their guy is, and he’s among the best.

MAF CAN be the franchise goalie, even when he's sitting in deference to his hotter counterpart, think Carey Price in 2010.

MAF CAN be the franchise goalie, even when he’s sitting in deference to his hotter counterpart, think Carey Price in 2010.

As for the Penguins, before Game 6 we would have been open, if not in favor, to playing MAF in game one of this series. There is a lot that suggests MAF has an especial problem with the first round, and that with any luck at all MAF would find his game in time for the second. But there can be absolutely no question whatsoever that Tomas Vokoun stole Game 6 for the Penguins, when’s the last time that happened for the Penguins? I can vaguely recall some moments in 2008 and 2009, certainly the last few moments of Game 7 in 2009, if not the entire game, but certainly not since then. 2010 against the Canadiens was bad, in 2011 MAF played okay, he didn’t get blown up, but when the team needed him to make one more save, he couldn’t do it, and then there was last year, you almost saw the same thing repeated by the Islanders this year, the team was competitive, but they couldn’t get any save, and they had no alternative to turn to. That’s why the Penguins brought in Tomas Vokoun, and that’s why you stick with him until he proves he can’t do it.

Vokoun has to be your #1 right now...

Vokoun has to be your #1 right now…

The most common retort we’ve seen so far to return to MAF is that you know if he’s still struggling you can turn back to Vokoun, what you don’t know is, if Vokoun should struggle, can you expect MAF to pick up the load. That’s nonsense, you know how Vokoun is playing and if he should start to fail the Penguins in a bigtime way there is probably no easy fix. Simply put, if the team in front of him WILL play well, Vokoun isn’t going to struggle. He’s not going to get the brain fade that has killed MAF in recent playoffs, he’ll be solid throughout and that’s really all you can ask. There’s no more question here, at least for now.

Bottom line: the Senators have the advantage here, but it mostly has to do with the fact that they have a clear picture. If the Ottawa media will prove to be a liability to the Senators (as they were on April 22) then the Pittsburgh media could be a liability for continuing to wage a public war of words on the goaltending situation.


Tomas Vokoun is in for Game 5

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No surprise for us here. MAF has been just awful. By no means is he the only problem on this team at this time, and we would never pretend that he is, but you can only play so many playoff games in a row BELOW AVERAGE before you get benched. And here’s the facts: in the last two playoff series MAF has given up an insane 40 goals in 10 games, since 2009 he hasn’t even come close to a .900 save percentage in the playoffs, he’s been fighting the puck all day every day, and he’s been culpable to more “soft” goals than we can count.

And yesterday was the final straw. Really Game 6 of the 2012 Conference Quarterfinals was the last straw, as far as the Penguins trusting in Fleury explicitly went. That’s why they brought Tomas Vokoun in at a not cheap $2.5 million/year (for a little perspective, excepting the two next most expensive back ups put together, Martin Biron and Peter Budaj, Vokoun’s deal is worth more than any two “back ups” in the Eastern Conference Playoffs combined) deal in the offseason. From the moment he came to Pittsburgh we here at Reggie’s House have always viewed him as a “1a” type option, our belief was that he could be the second half of potentially one of the best goaltending tandems in the whole league. Minus a couple of meaningless games in mid-February, Vokoun has held up his end of the bargain. So well in fact that we felt the need to write in favor of his continued play during the playoffs. In that piece we made one tragic faux pas. We claimed that in 2008 Chris Osgood played the entire postseason and was occasionally spelled by Dominik Hasek. We were wrong: Hasek started the first four games (which the Wings split 2-2 with the 8th seeded Stars) before turning to the venerable Osgood. I think that worked okay for them. By no means do we promise the same success this year, but it can’t hurt.

Game 5 is the right time for Vokoun to start a game. He doesn’t enter with all the pressure of elimination, it will be on friendly home ice,  he’s got a couple days to prepare, and as we always say when it comes to contracts: better to move on a little early than a little late.

As to what happens with MAF from here: the rest of this series is Vokoun’s. Personally I wouldn’t be opposed to running with Vokoun until he drops two in a row, whether that should be in this series or if it should be in the conference finals. I could concede possibly giving the first game of the next round (if the Pens can make it there) to MAF, but chances are pretty good that IF the Pens advance, Vokoun will likely have played pretty well, thus complicating that argument. It’s impossible to say what could happen after that.

And what happens if Vokoun struggles? Well, then the Pens as you know them now will cease to exist. The best thing that could happen for MAF is that Vokoun does play well, if he doesn’t then we would say it’s a certainty that MAF and his $5.25 million/year would get bought out. Bylsma will be gone, and you have to wonder if either Kris Letang and or Geno would get traded as well. We sure hope that doesn’t happen.

We know, we know Fleury has not been the whole problem. We have repeatedly stated that the Pens D has been way too soft and given way too much respect to the Islanders forwards. In order to help with that we’ve said that the Pens’ forwards need to backcheck a lot better. And Tuesday’s game highlighted the failure of the Pens’ forecheck too. But you can’t bench the whole team. You can bench the goaltender, you can do that to send a message to the rest of the team. Fleury hasn’t earned the moniker as “THE Go-To Guy,” if you think he has you’re still living in 2009, and that’s a shame because Twitter is really cool.


Gameday #12: @ New Jersey Devils

penguinsvsdevils

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ New Jersey Devils

Prudential Center, 1:00PM, Root Sports, NHL Network (local blackout)

Today marks the quarter point of the season. Hard to believe isn’t it?

Since getting dropped 5-1 by the Pens one week ago today, the Devils have very quietly gone on their own 3-game winning streak. At 6-1-3 they are still only one point behind the Pens for the division lead.

What this all means is that the Devils are (1) seriously overachieving, and (2) seriously still pretty good. The most impressive fact is that the Devils best players haven’t been at their best yet. Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique have yet to fully find their scoring touch. Instead, so far this year the Devils are led by the fossil Patrick Elias and the undrafted Dave Clarkson. Don’t get us wrong, good defense and goaltending have played a huge role in the Devils early success.

The Pens will play their second in a row without Kris Letang, we still haven’t seen a comprehensive story written about Tanger’s “lower-body injury” so we’re still assuming it’s nothing overly serious. Dylan Reese will be in the Pens’ lineup again today. Although we don’t have reason to view the injury as overly serious, Letang missing a pointless game against a horrible Caps team didn’t seem like a big deal, playing against the Devils with the Division and Conference lead on the line sounds much more serious.

MAF, who loves playing against the Devils, will be in net for his 3rd straight start today. The most that either Pens’ goalie has played in a row. Speaking of goalies, Martin Brodeur is expected to start for the Devils today, it will be his 1,200th career start for the Devils, that’s pretty impressive.

Spoil the celebration. Go Pens.


Gameday #10 Recap: @ New York Islanders, With Love from New York

Perhaps less of a “must win” for the Pens, but they entered this battle with a three game losing streak against the Isles (not sure but I think that was their longest active losing streak against any one team) and the Pens had the amps to get the job done. Pens are now 7-3 and in first place in the East, but this isn’t time for the Pens to relax. Get a recap after the jump.

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Let the Flame Wars Begin

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Vokoun

The incredibly impatient Pittsburgh sports population is in the midst of a crisis, Tomas Vokoun, the Pens’ largest off season acquisition has done exactly what we have always predicted he would do: play well. That coupled with one horrific outing from Marc Andre Fleury has the town on the brink of open rebellion. After the jump we examine the pros and cons of each man and why the whole concept is utterly lame.

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Penguins Season Preview: ‘Tenders

It’s finally here, we are actually previewing the actual guys who will be donning the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater this year. Today we’re starting with the goalies before moving out to defense, wingers, and then the centers, before finally making our BOLD predictions for the year. We’ve attempted to look at each player from a point/counterpoint perspective–that’s not to say that we are going to totally disagree on each player, far from it, we want to examine both the statistical expectations for each guy as well as our “feel” or read of the player. We hope you enjoy and we would love for you to get back to us with your thoughts and feelings. If you haven’t read them yet, please check out our series on Advanced Hockey Statistics: Goals Versus Threshold, Points per 60 Minutes, and Player Usage Charts (including Corsi numbers). Get the lowdown after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »